Bringing History to Life

Gilder Lehrman Institute

Students from the Gilder Lehrman History Scholars Program examine
manuscripts at the Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library (June 2009).

History classes on Saturday? Definitely, say Kansas students and teachers who attend Teacher Seminars and Saturday Academies underwritten by Fred and Mary Koch Foundation in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Founded in 1994, the Gilder Lehrman Institute promotes the study and love of American history, and a respect for the founding principles of the United States, using primary source documents, rather than textbooks. Nearly 70,000 documents, photographs and other historic items are preserved in the Gilder Lehrman Collection. More than 60,000 are available to view online. The real value of the collection comes when GLI puts them in the hands of students and teachers.

Since 2006, the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation has sponsored seminars for Kansas teachers and special classes for students featuring materials developed by GLI.

The Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminars in Wichita, Kan., feature prominent historians, professors and other authorities who spend a day with teachers, often following a community forum the previous evening. Recent forums featured David French, author and senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, and Amity Shlaes, columnist and author. Previous speakers who have discussed a range of topics from property rights to capitalism include Dr. Robert Lawson, who holds an endowed chair in economics at the SMU Cox School of Business and is co-author of the widely cited Economic Freedom of the World annual report; Dr. Bart Wilson, economics and law professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.; Dr. Richard Epstein, law professor at the University of Chicago; and Dr. Robert Hessen, business and economic historian and senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Hundreds of students participate annually in Gilder Lehrman Saturday Academies held in Wichita. The program offers five to six 80-minute classes focusing on topics such as civil rights, economics in American history, and American cinema. Often the academies are devoted to subjects that teachers don’t have time to cover in class. In many cases, GLI has been able to tailor resources in support of a topic chosen by a school district.

“GLI does an exceptional job, says Susan Addington, community relations manager for the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation. “When you see more than 200 high school students repeatedly show up for three hours of extra class time on a Saturday, that’s a pretty strong indicator the program is worthwhile.”

In 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama presented the Gilder Lehrman Saturday Academy Program with the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the nation’s highest honor for out-of-school arts and humanities programs.

With support from Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, GLI now has more than 2,800 schools affiliated with its programs.

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